Reality star reveals scarring, temporary blindness from TikTok freckle trend. Experts say steer clear

·4 min read
Australian reality TV star Tilly Whitfeld is warning her Instagram followers not to participate in the TikTok homemade freckles trend after it left her with permanent scars. (Photo: Instagram, Tilly Whitfield)
Australian reality TV star Tilly Whitfeld is warning her Instagram followers not to participate in the TikTok homemade freckles trend after it left her with permanent scars. (Photo: Instagram, Tilly Whitfield)

If you're considering trying the homemade freckle trend on TikTok, think again. That's the warning Australian reality star Tilly Whitfeld gave her fans in a recent Instagram, saying the so-called beauty hack left her with "deep below surface level scaring [sic] and pigmentation." Whitfeld, a Big Brother Australia contestant, expanded on the ordeal in a New York Times piece this week, explaining how her face "swelled up from the infection," causing her to "briefly lose sight in one eye." She attributes the infection to the ink, which she purchased on eBay and later realized had large amounts of lead.

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"Please please don't try any 'DIY' or 'at home' beauty procedures," she wrote on her Instagram in May, alongside pictures of the infected spots. "I ended up in hospital with temporary loss of vision in my eye due to swelling and was very sick from the infection, not to mention my face was somewhat unrecognizable. Leave it to the professionals 🌈🦄✨" Whitfeld shared, adding that the photos show "deep below surface level scaring and dark pigmentation."

Dermatologists agree that the trend is extremely risky. "This is concerning," says Dr. Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, expressing particular concern about an unsanitary application or a reaction to the ink. "Placing ink in a permanent or semi-permanent location in the skin could create big problems if that ink isn’t designed to be injected or deposited in the skin," Fenton adds. "You could develop some type of allergic reaction to the ink."

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Although some are taking a safer route by dabbing on henna ink, Fenton says that's still dangerous. "Even ink that has been designed for the skin can create an allergic reaction in some people — in some circumstances, this can lead to surgical excision to remove the ink," says Fenton. "Henna would not necessarily prevent the risk because the infection could come from the needle or other sources, regardless of the type of ink. If the henna, the needle or the skin are not properly sterilized, it can lead to infection."

Dustin Portela, a board-certified dermatologist who runs a popular TikTok account with more than 1 million followers, is often making videos to dispel "beauty hacks." He had yet to hear of the freckle trend but is now equally worried about the implications. "People have to remember what the function of our skin is — it's to keep bad things out and to keep good things in," Portela tells Yahoo Life. "We have a very robust immune system in the skin and when you introduce something that's potentially got a pathogen or is not designed to be put in the skin, your immune system is going to react to that. And it's really just doing its job. When the immune system goes overboard, it can contribute to scarring and inflammation."

He says he doesn't blame those who find it appealing but hopes that Whitfeld's story will be a warning to others. "I understand the motivation behind it, you know, trying to do something that may be less expensive, that you can do at home without the inconvenience of going into an office," Portela tells Yahoo Life. "Obviously, doing at-home freckle tattooing might look like it's only going to cost you $20 versus having a professional makeup artist do that, but now she is going to be paying probably thousands of dollars in lasers and creams and stuff to help restore her appearance."

Fenton agrees, saying that those who are determined to have the freckled look without them should go see someone who is trained in semi-permanent tattoos. "If you are set on getting a tattoo for a freckled look, see a professional artist who can do the procedure under proper conditions with the proper tools and ink," Fenton says. "But beware, trends change and you may not like the freckled look if it hangs out too long."

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